Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) bounced back from losing time on stage six to win his second stage of this year’s Paris-Nice on stage seven.
The Dutchman, who won stage four, beat world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) in another frantic finale, with overall leader Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) taking third.
Geraint Thomas and Team Sky’s hopes of an overall win appear to be over, however, after the Welshman crashed heavily in the final five kilometres.
Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing) instigated an attack from the flag, breaking clear with five companions to build an early advantage.
Pim Lightart (Lotto-Belisol), after his efforts the previous day, Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Sylvester Szmyd (Movistar), Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano) and Florian Guillou (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) completed the six-man break.
Behind them several riders set off in pursuit, including Marco Marcato (Cannondale) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement). Marcato was dropped from the counter-attack but Feillu bridged to the six leaders alongside Matthias Frank (IAM Cycling) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis).
With Ligthart a threat to the polka dot jersey of Sylvain Chavanel, Frank’s position in the break was clearly to disrupt the Lotto-Belisol man as they climbed the category one Col de Vence with a lead just shy of five minutes on the Ag2r-La Mondiale-led peloton.
A spirited effort by Frank proved unsuccessful however, as Ligthart led the way over the top and continued to rack up the points as the break stayed clear throughout the day.
Brice Feillu was dropped by his fellow escapees on the Col de l’Ecre, returning to the bunch, but the remaining eight stayed clear with Lightart cresting each of the day’s classified climbs ahead of Frank.
Back in the bunch, Team Europcar took up the chase, bringing the escapees lead down to little more than a minute.
The escapees were all swept up, with the exception of Westra, with 38km to go, and the Dutchman was soon caught shortly after the final intermediate sprint.
David Lopez (Team Sky) was the first to attack the bunch, and was joined by the ever-active Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) among others.
Chavanel remained active, even after the first attack was swept up, instigating another which also included Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) shortly afterwards.
The escapees were never allowed to gain much of an advantage over the bunch however, as any attempt was repeatedly swept up by the Romain Bardet and Ag2r-La Mondiale-led peloton.
Disaster struck for Thomas inside the final five kilometres however, the Team Sky man hitting the deck in a crash which also brought down Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) and Arnold Jeanesson (FDJ.fr).
The Welshman re-mounted, clutching his collarbone, but with the frantic pace maintained at the front he lost significant time on the leading GC contenders.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked inside the final kilometre, but it was Jelte-Slagter who showed perfect timing to bounce back from his stage six disappointment.
For Costa, meanwhile, it is a second consecutive second place – a position he now holds overall too after Thomas’ crash.
Paris-Nice 2014: stage seven – result
1) Tom-Jelte Slagter (DEN) – Garmin-Sharp – 5.00.05hrs
2) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida – ST
3) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
4) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
5) Arthur Vichot (FRA) – FDJ.fr
6) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol
7) Stephan Denifl (AUT) – IAM Cycling
8) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
9) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana
10) Peter Velits (SVK) – BMC Racing
1) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – 32.04.49hrs
2) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +14″
3) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +26″
4) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar +27″
5) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +29″
6) Arthur Vichot (FRA) – FDJ.fr +31″
7) Cyril Gautier (FRA) – Team Europcar +35″
8) Stephan Denifl (AUT) – IAM Cycling – ST
9) Peter Velits (SVK) – BMC Racing +39″
10) Simon Spilak (SVK) – Katusha – ST
38) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +7.25